NBA players are stepping up their off-court attire and raising their fashion IQ, either by hiring stylists or shopping at a fervent rate. When it comes to on-court fashion, players have always used their footwear to showcase their personal style and taste. Whether displaying messages in marker or wearing “banned” colorways like Michael Jordan, sneakers are more than just a conduit for brand advertising.
Most NBA players have supply deals with brands that allow for pairs of their chosen shoes for in-game wear and stipulate that they can only wear that specific brand of performance footwear (for instance, Nike athletes cannot wear Y-3 or other diffusion lines by adidas). Bigger NBA stars have major endorsements deals that offer player edition sneakers (PEs) with specific team colors along with personal touches like their own logo. Not only do these colorways keep the players from breaching the NBA uniform requirements, they also provide pairs for the audience that documents exclusive in-game kicks. However, despite options from sneaker companies, more players are flaunting their own personal sneaker collections in games, much to the delight of bloggers, fans and the players themselves. But who reigns supreme in NBA sneaker heat this season?
According to the NBA uniform requirements, all in-game sneakers must adhere to color combinations of “white, black and the colors within the team’s identity," so dependent on the team, players can rock some heat without being fined. But credit must be given to Gilbert Arenas for really pushing forward his footwear agenda in NBA games. During the 2010-2011 season, Arenas made headlines for his inspired and often ridiculous shoe choices for game play. He collaborated with Dustin Canalin and brand UNDRCRWN (who designed Arenas’ adidas signature sneakers) in creating a “Sneaker Champ” persona that featured a calendar of shoe choices for each game. Arenas’ collection became a thing of footwear lore, especially when he began giving away the footwear through Twitter contests. For Arenas’, it’s always been about the shoes and he used the Sneaker Champ brand to stunt on the entire league. If only Agent Zero’s footwear bravado translated to his in-game play and he was still giving the rest of the league the business in Dolce and Gabbana sneakers, instead of bringing his collection (including Yeezys) to play in China. When it comes to a footwear collection, Arenas’ is still the NBA GOAT, but there are a few young players chomping at his heels.
Current players are becoming more creative while staying on brand, like longtime Jordan Brand athlete Joe Johnson. He’s brought out gems like the Air Jordan IV "Breds" (which release on Black Friday) and the Jordan Sixty Club. Nike athlete Rajon Rondo is showing a preference to the Nike Air Foamposite Ones, wearing the pearlized “Pink” and the black “stealth” pair. Nick Young, whose personal style warrants the nickname “Swaggy P” (he’s even apparently made Swaggy P branded gear), has gone on the record to say that he will wear Nike Yeezy 2s in a game. So far this season, Young's heat include black cement IIIs, Nike Zoom Kobe Is and a pair of Nike iD Zoom Flight Fives.
My NBA sneaker MVP this season goes to the Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has been spotted supporting his hometown RIF.LA sneaker boutique multiple times, dropping stacks on kicks each trip. So far this season, DeRozan has kept it all Jordan Brand everything, mixing in upcoming releases and earlier classics. This month, DeRozan has worn “playoff” XIs (better known as the “Breds”), the “Johnny Kilroy" IXs, various Vs including the "Toro Bravo" and "Fire Red," the “Black Cat” Jordan IVs and my personal favorite, the "white cement" IIIs. DeRozan is clearly showing his appreciation of the sneaker he grew up coveting as a kid in Compton and it’s exciting to see the range in his footwear while still sticking to the Raptors’ black, red and white color scheme.
Will Swaggy P catch DeRozan for the best sneaker game this season? Or will someone new take the kicks crown? The season is still very young so we’ll see how many players are willing to pull out gems and grails from their collection to compete on the court.